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Wine Club Newsletter - May 2016

Fakes Uncovered at Wine Competition

By W. Blake Gray

Having recently judged at a major wine competition, I find this situation appalling, but it’s a reality in business. It harms all those in the industry, one of which is based on passion, integrity, and the sharing the wealth of our lands with a giving, eye-to-eye spirit. Not so for some, however. (GP)

Wine fakery is no longer limited to first-growth Bordeaux: it has hit supermarkets. Two wine companies have been caught submitting different versions of their wines to the world's largest wine competition to the one they sell in stores.

Thomas Costenoble, director of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, told Wine-Searcher that he could not name the wineries on the advice of his attorney, but he has submitted a complaint to the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Belgium, which can pursue fraud claims.

"This year we trapped two companies," Costenoble said. "It was really clear that it was not the same wine. It was completely different. The samples in the competition were much different than the samples in the supermarket."

Both fake samples won medals last year, and the wineries were using the Concours Mondial seal on the bottle in stores. Costenoble said he has contacted distributors of the wines in Europe and demanded that they remove all bottles of the wines from store shelves.

"They have to pick up all the bottles in the shops," Costenoble said. "Otherwise they will be financially penalized."

The Concours Mondial judges more than 8000 wines from 46 countries. Despite the name, this year's competition was held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Full disclosure: I am one of 320 judges from 50 countries; so is Wine-Searcher's European editor Adam Lechmere.

Stickers indicating a Grand Gold, Gold or Silver medal from the Concours Mondial are common in European wine shops and grocery stores. The competition, now in its 23rd year, is especially influential in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. The competition is run on the OIV system, with multiple judges independently scoring each wine.

Unlike many competitions, nobody judges more than 50 wines per day. The idea, according to Costenoble, is that consumers will be able to trust that a medal-winning wine is good.

Costenoble said the organization began checking submitted samples against purchased wines that are supposed to be the same in 2009, but the detection program didn't really take off until 2012, when they found a laboratory in Bordeaux willing to analyze and compare the wines.

Judges from the competition purchase the wines in their own countries and send them to Bordeaux, where they are compared against unopened samples retained by the Concours. Each winery must submit four bottles to the Concours and usually only one is needed in the competition.

The two wines that are supposed to be the same are first compared the old fashioned way: by tasting. If the tasters have doubts, the lab analyzes the samples for alcohol, total acidity, sugar and SO2.

"If in all these criteria, there is a difference higher than the level of incertitude, we can be sure that the samples are not the same," Costenoble said.

The first fake award-winning sample was exposed in 2009 by a Spanish judge who just wanted a nice bottle for dinner, just like you or I.

"He bought a wine from a supermarket in Spain," Costenoble said. "He said, 'There is no way this could be a gold medal.' I compared it to the sample we had in the office. And it was wrong. I did not imagine that problem before."

So Costenoble established a random testing program. Last year the competition tested 100 wines and found two fakes. Costenoble said "it's impossible to say" how widespread the practice is of submitting fake wines to the competition, but he hopes that the testing program will make wineries more wary of being busted. It's hard to say what the EU bureaucracy might or might not do, but at the very least the two busted wineries are banned from submitting wines to the Concours for five years.

"It is our reputation," Costenoble said. "I'm really unhappy when a consumer tells me: 'I bought a wine with a gold medal and it was no good.' There are so many wines in the world and I want the (medal) to mean something to consumers."

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2012 Rasteau, Domaine Colliere, “Les Touilleres”

Growing Region: Rhone Valley, France
Varietal Composition: 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, Carignan, & Mourvedre
Fermentation: Stainless Steel and Wood Barrels
Alcohol Content: 15%
Suggested Retail:  $30.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $24.29

Broad Strokes:
Robert Parker, Wine Advocate: “ . . . made by Georges Perrot, a well-known local bon vivant and gourmand as well as a serious winemaker. A classic Provencal Cotes du Rhone, it offers notes of kirsch liqueur, damp earth, melted chocolate, forest floor and roasted herbs. A blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and the rest Carignan and Mourvedre aged 12 months in concrete, this beauty should drink well for 5-6+ years.” 91 Points!

Appearance:
Good-looking package overall. There may be some confusion for consumers, for many do not know what “Rasteau” is (a wine appellation in Southern France) or that “Les Touilleres” is one of the few different cuvee blends the winery practices. The wine is dark red, with some black and gray tinting.

Nose:
Kirsch, strawberry, pomegranate, cherry, cedar-wood oak, sweet leather strap, anise, clove, juniper, licorice, countryside dirt, and roasted nuts.

Texture:
Medium full in weight, this might remind one of a baby, edgy, Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Edgy meaning a little harsh on tannins, but not anything I found offensive; it’s just the way some Rasteau are built, and thus improve significantly after a few years in the bottle.

Flavors:
These are hillside vineyards, with lots of slope and sun. Consequently, you may experience “roasted” flavors, like roasted cherry and roasted hazelnuts, like I sensed. Loved it, as well as the vanilla cream, strawberry, black and red licorice, mahogany, cardamom and cinnamon.

Serving Suggestions:
As with the texture of the wine, the flavor profile is like a baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It needs a lot of airtime, and a few more years in the bottle to soften the tough edges.

My notes kept saying “beautiful, just beautiful, balanced, elegant.” Even though the wine is a little tough to start, it becomes a real winner after some air. I encourage you to save 6-12 bottles in your cellar.

2013 Pinot Noir, Gallegos, Boekenoogen Vineyard

Growing Region: Santa Lucia Highlands, California
Varietal Composition: 100% Pinot Noir
Fermentation: 25% New French, 75% Neutral Oak
Alcohol Content: 14.8%
Suggested Retail: $44.00
WineSellar Club Price: $35.99

Broad Strokes:
Here’s a WONDERFUL California Pinot Noir for a deeply discounted price! We’ve carried Gallegos label for years, and we got a good buy from them, as we purchased about 1/8 of all the 2013 vintage of this wine. I find it to be almost hypnotic, with its richness, complexity, and concentration. What I also thought very interesting is that such a full-bodied red wine has so many characters you may typically find in a white wine.

Appearance:
Good, heavy bottle, with generally clear, easy to read font, clean and direct. I like that, as well as some detailed information on the back label. The wine is dark, especially for a Pinot Noir, yet brilliant, glistening with the light.

Nose:
Varietal-correct nose, straightforward Pinot fruit, but it’s not that simple. In fact, it is really multilayered! Blackberry, rhubarb, dark cherry, spice, baker’s chocolate, some earthiness, and roasted nuts.

Texture:
Even with its deep, focused concentration, the Gallegos Pinot Noir still has a lovely, velvet feel in the palate. With the richness of a California Pinot Noir, it can transport you to the newer styled, more concentrated wine coming from Burgundy, France . . . but with one-fourth the price tag.

Flavors:
While savory in the flavor profile, it has bright fruit components, and a great deal of complexity. The aromatic elements we got on the nose deliver straight to the palate: Blackberry, rhubarb, dark cherry, spice, baker’s chocolate and roasted nuts. The white wine characteristics were peach, stone fruit (apple and pear) and kiwi.

Serving Suggestions:
This wine will improve for another 5-8 years, I am certain, It will gain further complexities as it ages, and I would like to be there in 2020 or so when one of us opens a bottle to see if I am correct . . . just kidding, I KNOW I am!

2013 Cotes du Rhone Blanc, Dauvergne Rauvier Vin Gourmand

Growing Region: Rhone Valley, France
Varietal Composition: 80% Viognier, 20% Grenache Blanc
Fermentation: Stainless Steel Tanks
Alcohol Content: 13.5%
Suggested Retail: $16.00
WineSellar Club Price: $13.99

Broad Strokes:
When well made, I really love the white wines from the Rhone Valley of France. They offer good fruit and mineral notes for casual drinking, and firm acidity to go well with food. The Dauvergne Rauvier is from a small parcel of vineyards, about four acres. The vines are twenty-five five years old, and the vineyard and winemaking processes conform to the state organic practices.

Appearance:
Good-looking, straightforward label, actually looking a bit more to the clean, new world style of graphics versus traditional South of France squiggly, ornate fonts and designs. The wine is light straw in hue, and sticks to the inside of the glass very well.

Nose:
Very pleasant and even aromatics, featuring peach, pear, rose petal, honeysuckle and a touch of quince. The nose makes you eager to sip.

Texture:
Medium to medium light in weight upon entry, but expands to a fuller, rich feel in the mouth, especially after opening the bottle for a few minutes. It is totally quaffable if you don’t watch out, so take some time to savor the uniqueness as well as the nice lusciousness the wine has to offer.

Flavors:
PEACH! Peach is a classic flavor element associated with Viognier, and this wine has it in spades. White peach, pear, orange, ripe citrus, perhaps even orange juice, coconut, casaba melon, granny smith apple. You may be able to detect a bit of cinnamon or clove in there as well.

Serving Suggestions:
So wonderful as an opening wine before dinner, or with lunch, featuring a composed salad, light appetizers. At this price, and this level of quality, a case needs to go into the kitchen cabinet for consuming the remainder of 2016.

2013 Grenache, Herman Story, “On the Road”

Growing Region:  California
Varietal Composition: 100% Grenache
Fermentation: 16 Months 65% New French Oak
Alcohol Content: 16.1%
Suggested Retail: $50.00
WineSellar Club Price: $44.09

Broad Strokes:
So many critics love this wine: Robert Parker, 93 Points. Anthony Gallani 94 Points, 92 Points Vinous. They, and winemaker Russell From have written so much poetic praise, to which I am going to integrate some of what they said with my own observations. As you know, generally it’s all me talking. This is a distinctive, glorious wine to have in our cellars.

Appearance:
Great package, and I love the artsy labels. Black at the core, magenta rim. The Herman Story Grenache On the Road is a drop-dead gorgeous beauty.

Nose:
Perfumed bouquet of kirsch and black raspberry fruits, crushed rocks, spice and dried earth. Sexy, focused aromas of raspberry liqueur, potpourri and peppery spices. Smells like a Fourth of July party by the pool: raspberry sorbet, fresh orange zest, licorice, fresh rubber rafts, chocolate brownie batter and vanilla whipped cream.

Texture:
Fresh, vibrant and chiseled. It is full-bodied, supple, balanced with delicious style. It has a kick of savory tannin to integrate, but it's already approachable and should offer tons of pleasure over the coming 4-5 years. These are not for those craving tiny, mid-weight efforts as they have rocking textures, tons of fruit, and most importantly, always remain a joy to drink.

Flavors:
On the palate the 2013 On the Road does a cannonball off the high dive, bringing an explosion of brambly blackberry, pomegranate, oiled leather, cherry cola and charcoal briquettes all with teeth-staining color. It’ll leave you soaked and smiling. Sweet floral notes, cinnamon, and mint add nuance on the seriously beautiful, vivid finish.

Serving Suggestions:
Owner/winemaker Russell From produces a wide range of rich and usually flamboyant wines at his stripped-down winery in downtown Paso Robles, hard by the railroad tracks. His wines have quickly become among the most sought after bottlings from the region and, like his colleagues who are also high up in the Paso Robles pecking order, his waiting list is growing steadily. So in short, jump on this when you have the chance!

Fried Zucchini Blossoms with Goat Cheese and Zucchini Pesto

Blossoms:

  • 24 zucchini blossoms
  • ½ cup goat cheese
  • 1½ qt. olive oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cup chilled seltzer water or ice water
  • Sea salt
  • Cayenne pepper

Zucchini Pesto:

  • 1 medium zucchini (about 8 oz.)
  • 2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tbsp. pine nuts
  • 30 basil leaves (approx. 3/4 cup loosely packed)
  • 1/4 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 6 ounces extra virgin olive oil     
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste       

For the Blossoms:
Carefully stuff each zucchini blossom with 1 teaspoon of the goat cheese. Fold over the petals to form an envelope.

  1. In a deep skillet or deep-fryer, heat the oil to 375 degrees. It is important to maintain this temperature, so be sure to use an accurate thermometer.
  2. While the oil is heating, put the flour in a mixing bowl. Pour in the seltzer a little at a time, whisking constantly to ensure a smooth batter. Season with salt and cayenne.
  3. When the oil is properly heated, dip a stuffed blossom into the batter to coat it evenly, scraping off any excess. Fry until crisp and golden, about 30 seconds per side. Remove to paper towels to drain. Repeat process with all blossoms, being careful not to overcrowd the skillet and maintaining the proper oil temperature.

For the Zucchini Pesto:
Quarter zucchini and cut into 1-inch pieces.

  1. Blanche zucchini for 2 minutes in salted boiling water, then shock in ice bath to preserve color.  Drain well and pat dry with cloth.
  2. With the motor running, pour the olive oil through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream until the pesto emulsifies. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To Serve:

  1. Spread the pesto on a large platter.
  2. Arrange the fried blossoms on top, and serve immediately.

 

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